The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that judges in EU member countries are entitled to seek advice from the bloc's top court and cannot be subjected to disciplinary action for doing so.
The November 23 ruling was made in the case of a Hungarian judge who was subjected to disciplinary measures for requesting advice from the ECJ about the required competencies of interpreters in cases involving foreign nationals accused of crimes.
Hungary's Supreme Court declared the judge's request unlawful and placed him under a disciplinary process.
The judge was seeking guidance in the case of a Swedish national accused of a crime who did not speak Hungarian and whose translator appeared to have limited qualifications for the task, raising questions as to whether the accused understood the charges against him.
Hungary, which is ruled by the nationalist, right-wing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has been involved in a tug-of-war with the European Union over the government's repeated attempts to curb the independence of judges and their right to refer cases to the EU court.
"On the basis of the primacy of EU law, a national court must disregard any national judicial practice which is prejudicial to its right to make a reference to the Court of Justice," the ECJ ruled.
"EU law precludes disciplinary proceedings from being brought against a national judge on the ground that he or she has made a reference for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice," the EU court said, adding such disciplinary proceedings could undermine judicial independence.
"In such circumstances, the principle of the primacy of EU law requires the lower court to disregard the decision of the supreme court of the member state concerned," the court said.
With regard to the competencies of court-appointed translators and interpreters, the ECJ ruled that member states "must take specific measures ensuring, first, that the quality of the interpretation and translations is sufficient to enable the suspect or accused person to understand the accusation against him or her."
The court recommended to member states to create registers of independent translators or interpreters whose competency "was of sufficient quality, so that the fairness of the proceedings and the exercise of the rights of the defense are safeguarded."
Hungary recently rejected a demand by the European Commission and many EU lawmakers to repeal new legislation banning schools from using materials deemed to promote homosexuality.
Hungarian Judge Cannot Be Disciplined For Seeking Advice, EU Court Says